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Salad – The Healthy Way

Q: We have a large salad bar at the work cafeteria that I would like to take advantage of for lunch (especially during the summer).  I’m trying to lose weight and control blood sugar.  Could you give me some tips on what to choose and what to steer clear on at the salad bar?

A: Salads are a great way to get in your daily fruit and vegetable intake. These foods and are wonderful sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that may do some powerful things like prevent cancer and reduce aging). However, there are some items on salad bars that can make a salad just as high in calories and fat as a trip to a fast food restaurant.

When putting it all together, think of the healthy plate – 1/4 of the plate protein, 1/4 of the plate carbohydrate (or starch), and the rest non-starchy vegetables.

When choosing your vegetables, go for brightly colored ones like spinach, carrots, peppers, broccoli, etc. The darker the vegetable – the more nutrition it has.

Add some protein like a hard-boiled egg, lean meat or reduced fat cheese.

Lastly add a couple of carbohydrates – like beans or fruit. If yogurt is an option, add that as a side.

You may have the option of adding things like rich cheeses, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives or croutons to your salad. Many of these are healthy items, but they are high in fat, so put no more than a total of 1-2 teaspoons of these items in your salad.

Most salad dressings are oil based. Oil is a fat, so eating these in moderation is best. At most salad bars, the types of dressings will be limited. If you want to keep calories very low, try these instead:

  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • salsa
  • low-fat cottage cheese
  • Red wine vinaigrette

If none of these seem appetizing to you, consider using a vinaigrette or low-fat, low-carbohydrate dressing.If no labels are around for you to know how many calories or fat are in the dressing, you can probably assume that 1 tablespoon of a “light” dressing has 45 calories and 5 grams of fat in it.

The high calorie, high fat dressings that you usually want to avoid or eat very small portions of are creamy dressings like Ranch or Caesar (these can contain around 14 grams of fat per tablespoon).

salad2

My personal favorite is a salad made with a bed of spinach, topped with egg, garbanzo beans, red onion, feta cheese, carrots, pepper, and maybe a few low-calorie croutons. All of the alternative salad dressings listed above I have tried and are surprisingly satisfactory. My top 2 favorites are cottage cheese and red wine vinaigrette depending on my mood.

Buen Provecho!

Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.

Photo by: Mark J. Sebastian

Sleep – More Important than You Know

Photo by: Mark J. Sebastian

In today’s society, most people are in a rush or are working on a time crunch so the one activity that is so important to our health, sleep, is often neglected. Do you get enough sleep? Do you know how much is enough? Research is finding that not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your health in more ways than one.

Sleep Research

Scientific evidence shows that adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well rested. The average adult sleeps fewer than 7 hours a night. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “More than 1/3 of adults report daytime sleepiness so severe that it interferes with work, driving, and social functioning at least a few days each month.” As for children, a lack of sleep can directly affect their health, behavior and development. (They need between 9 and 10 hours a night!)

Sufficient Sleep Benefits

Recent studies reveal that people who are well rested have:

  • Better creative problem solving skills
  • Improved memory, insight and learning
  • Much needed rest for the heart and vascular system
  • Proper release of growth hormones
  • Boosted muscle mass and repair of cells and tissues
  • Normal release of sex hormones which contribute to puberty and fertility

Sleep Deprivation Risks

Research shows that lack of sleep:

  • Slows the thinking process
  • Makes focusing and paying attention difficult
  • Brings on confusion easily
  • Causes faulty decision-making
  • Increases risk taking
  • Slows reaction time
  • Causes irritability or unhappiness
  • Poses a greater risk of developing depression
  • Stresses the body and may trigger the release of more adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones
  • May trigger the production of proteins thought to play a role in heart disease
  • Reduces the body’s ability to fight off common infections

How Sleep and Weight are Related

Sleep is also a powerful regulator of appetite, energy use and weight control. During sleep, the body’s production of the appetite suppressor leptin increases and the appetite stimulant, grhelin decreases. Research finds that the less people sleep (five hours or less), the more likely they are to be overweight or obese and prefer eating higher calorie foods since their food regulation has been altered.

Other research has found that when healthy volunteers slept only 4 hours a night for 6 nights in a row, their insulin and blood sugar levels matched those seen in people who were in the developmental stages of diabetes.

Another study found that women who slept less than 7 hours a night were more likely to develop diabetes than those who slept between 7 and 8 hours a night.

Sleeping in late on the weekends will not completely fix your deprivation; it certainly can’t make up for your poor performance earlier in the week. Daytime naps (up to an hour) can partially make up for missed sleep and improve alertness, mood and work, but they don’t substitute for a good night’s sleep. Often times, a nap lasting more than 20 minutes can cause grogginess and difficulty regaining focus. Late afternoon naps can make sleeping in the evening difficult.

The Solution

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Being consistent helps regulate your body’s sleep/wake cycle
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed
  • Include exercise in your daily routine. Exercise promotes better and faster sleep. Be careful not to exercise too close to your normal bedtime as this can sometimes cause difficulty in falling asleep
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed
  • If you find that your mind is racing before bed, start a winding down ritual before you go to bed – try reading, take a warm bath or shower, meditating or write down anything on your mind that you might need to take care of first thing the next day
  • Avoid using any electronic media like the tv or computer as the light can interfere with  your body’s cues to sleep
  • Create a comfortable sleep space. Make sure the temperature is right, it’s dark, the pillows and sheets are comfortable and that you have enough room. Quality is just as important as quantity of sleep

To find out more about sleep deprivation, myths, different types of sleep disorders and other reliable resources, check out Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.

***Mandy is not affiliated with any food products listed in her blog, nor is she being compensated, in any way, by any food company.

Night Eating and Weight

Night-time eating is a bit of a confusing subject. Perhaps you’ve heard eating at night will cause you to gain weight. The answer is….maybe. Depending on what you’re eating and if your sleep is not regular or sufficient, yes, you could.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest reported on a study where test subjects who ate between 11 pm and 5 am on at least one night gained, on average, 14 pounds over the next three years. The subjects who didn’t eat between those hours, only gained 4 pounds over the following three years.

The subjects who ate late at night were consuming 300 more calories than those who were not late eaters.

Also, if you’re up late at night eating, this might also mean you aren’t getting adequate sleep. Less sleep can also mean more calories and more weight.

The Harvard School of Health states that there are numerous studies showing a link between insufficient sleep and obesity. Some studies show that those who sleep less, tend to eat late at night and consume an average of 550 extra calories between 10pm and 4am.

Sleep deprivation has effects on brain activity and may change reward and impulse control. Other research has found that lack of sleep raises blood sugar, makes insulin less effective, and boosts the hormone (ghrelin) that signals hunger.

If you get enough sleep and manage your calories, you shouldn’t have a problem with what time of day you eat. So the thought that “eating after 7pm will cause you to gain weight” is untrue….unless you’re eating more calories than you should. Eating extra calories at ANY time, day or night, will result in weight gain.

Bottom line: Get adequate sleep and keep your calories under control. If night-time is a trigger to eat when you are alone, find other things to keep you occupied or talk with a therapist.

For more information on sleep deprivation and health see Sleep-More Important Than You Know.

Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas, specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control, and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.

Cleansing and Detoxing

Everyone is talking about detoxes and cleanses. Many people see cleanses and detoxes as a renewing and rejuvenation process that can “reset” the body, help them clean out the “junk” in their body, or jump-start their next diet.

However, detoxes and cleanses (usually characterized by fasting or consuming herbs, a restricted diet, or other unusual practices) have not been scientifically proven as being beneficial. In some cases, detoxes can cause more harm than good.

Long term effects could lead to nutrient deficiencies, muscle breakdown, blood-sugar problems, and frequent liquid bowel movements. By depriving the body of what it needs, you’ll actually reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection and manage inflammation. In fact, you’re making your body struggle to function properly.

In addition, you’ll are almost guaranteed to experience fatigue, irritability, headache, aches and pains, etc. This is a not a sign of good health – this is your body signaling that something is wrong.

Your liver, skin, lungs, and kidneys are very effective at removing toxins and impurities from the body; that is their function.

If you feel that you truly need a major change, instead do something that is healthy for your body. I challenge you to spend a week eating nothing but fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, tofu, and lean dairy. Just make sure you are keeping things balanced. Eat as much as you like of these foods and see how you feel. I guarantee you’ll feel better than any cleanse or detox will leave you feeling.

If you can, extend your “healthy cleanse” to 2-3 weeks, by then you will have developed new healthy habits and maybe you’ll continue to eat that way….who knows…? Give it a shot!

Buen Provecho!

Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.

Mike Baird

Exercise – it Does a Body (and So Much More) Good!

Photo by: Mike Baird

Sure, you’ve heard that exercise is great for reducing your risk for various diseases (cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer, etc.), helps you control your weight, boosts your energy, strengthens your muscles and bones, and increases your chances of living longer….but exercise also does so much more…

Improves Sleep

Having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Regular exercise will help you fall asleep faster and deeper. Be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime or you may be too energized to fall asleep. Some people report struggling with sleep the first few days after starting a new exercise program due to increased energy levels, but stick with it and you’ll find sleep will come easily.

Improves Your Sex Life

Regular exercise not only gives you more energy, but also makes you feel and look better which can positively affect your sex life. Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women and, for men, less problems with erectile dysfunction.

Improves Your Mood

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report: “Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression… Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits.”

May Help Prevent or Manage Addictions (Food, Drugs, or others)

According to the National Institutes of Health, animal research shows that exercise can help promote the formation of blood vessels in the brain, makes connections between cells, enhances repair of nerve tissue, and creates new neurons in memory areas of the brain. Exercise also improves tolerance of stress—which is very important considering the links between stress and food and/or drug abuse. More research is demonstrating that exercise may boost brain volume and replenish dopamine receptors (responsible for pleasure), thereby helping reduce the need to search out more food, drugs, etc.

Exercises

Just about everyone can do something. But consult your doctor before taking on a vigorous exercise program.

Start with just a couple of days a week and work your way up to most days of the week. Aim for a total of 150 minutes of activity a week. You can even break it down to 10 minute increments. For example – a 10 minute walk with the dog in the morning before work. Then another 10 minutes around the building during your break at work. And then finish up with another 10 minute walk with the dog after work.

Here are some other easy ways to get in activity:

  • Jump rope during commercials
  • Lift a dumb bells when on the phone at work
  • Take a walk for half of your lunch break
  • Use a resistance band while watching a movie or your favorite tv show
  • Park far away at work so that you get double the workout
  • Volunteer to walk/jog a dog at the local shelter
  • Form a wellness group at work to help keep motivation high

Get exercising ! To get the most benefit, stay consistent. Make it a priority!

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